Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Academic Flame Wars

Academic Flame Wars. Flame wars are always fun. (Well, not really...) E-mail, forums, and blogs give people the opportunity to write things that they would never say in person. This essay from the Chronicle of Higher Education demonstrates how this can have negative impact on graduate students in a department. I like the term "postmodern wanker" discussed in this piece. But that the heck does it mean?

From the site:

That, at least, was how I initially viewed my department's online discussion group for graduate students, which often doubled as a blog in that students made six- or seven-paragraph comments about various topics.

It seemed an ideal public sphere where you could discuss the current state of theory, departmental politics, or, one time, whether to join adjuncts on the campus in a strike. We had been notified about the two-day walkout by the adjuncts' union weeks before, but many of us had put off making a firm decision. At the 11th hour we received an e-mail message from our own union recommending that we support the strike.

A debate ensued on the discussion group, bringing us together in a virtual town hall. Was it a "good faith" strike, given that our contract prohibited sympathy strikes? Was it fair to students to cancel class on short notice? Most of the postings seemed to support the strike, although there were a few holdouts who argued that we should go ahead and teach our classes. One student remarked how heartening it was that a vigorous debate had avoided polarization.

Then, hours before the work action, a new post appeared, one markedly different in tone from the others. "I don't think we should worry too much about avoiding polarization," John declared in his post. "The fact is that we all have two choices, and we will be divided into two groups of people after next week. If we think that 'scab' is an ugly label, we should act in a way that makes that label inapplicable to us."

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